To call yourself a fairly accomplished hiker isn’t an understatement. You trekked over the Alps, passing through France, Italy, and Switzerland, on the Tour du Mont Blanc. You tramped through the South Island of New Zealand on the Te Araroa Trail. Plus you backpack a different section of the Appalachian Trail each summer. But this time, you aren’t looking to check one of the world’s best hikes off your list. You’d rather find one that no one else knows about.
That’s how you ended up on the Zhdanko Ridge. Never heard of it before? Perfect. The ridge is on Sakhalin, an island in the North Pacific Ocean, in between Russia’s east coast and the northern coast of Japan. It’s separated from the mainland of Russia by the Strait of Tartary, which freezes over during the winter. And the winter is nearly endless here. It usually snows until at least June.
Russia’s largest island has been inhabited since the New Stone Age. The Ainu, Orok, and Nivkh peoples lived here undisturbed for thousands of years. Then the Russians and, eventually, the Japanese arrived. They set up labor camps and battled each other. Peace didn’t resume until after World War II ended.
But you’re not thinking about any of this on the Zhdanko Ridge, which was created when molten magma rose but couldn’t surface on the southeast coast of the island. It’s now a protected reserve full of volcanic rock formations, hardened lava flows, vertical drops, and gushing waterfalls. Pine forests once covered the 13-kilometer ridge. They were destroyed by fires, so Sargent’s juniper and bright green grass replaced them. They’re quite striking against the black volcanic rocks. From Tsapko Station, the beginning of the two-day hike, you can already see waterfalls and coastal vistas ahead. This could end up being the best hike that no one knows about yet.